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“A Fork on the Road” Interview with Coast Packing Co’s CEO, Eric Gustafson.

April 18, 2019

“A Fork on the Road” host and travel guru, Mark DeCarlo, alongside the James Beard award-winning foodie Jennifer English interview Coast Packing Co CEO, Eric Gustafson.

Mark: Welcome to A Fork On the Road!  I’m your travel guru, Mark DeCarlo, alongside the James Beard award-winning foodie Jennifer English.  This is why we bring you every week funny facts on food, travel and fun. Jennifer, how are you? 

Jennifer: So happy that it’s Easter!  I love Easter I love chocolate eggs but I loooove jelly beans… Listen, I’ve done a lot of food judging including the national pie championships in Celebration, Florida. Do you know what the key to a great pie crust is?

Tim: Practice? Starch?

Jennifer: One of the keys to a great pie crust is making the crust from a really great flavored lard or shortening, and one of the best sources for that is one of our guests in the next segment, Eric Gustafson of Coast Packing Company in Vernon, Calif., near downtown L.A.

Mark, we’re going to talk about a group called the Healthy Fats Coalition, the HFC — a group of people who take the great cuisines of the world, dishes in the southwest like tamales, tostadas and taco shells, foods that give us comfort and delight, and they’re showcasing these classic cuisine elements in beautiful, healthy ways.  Representing the Healthy Fats Coalition is Coast Packing Company, a family-owned company for 97 years, and our friend Eric Gustafson, Coast’s CEO, is joining us now to talk about why this is a movement that we got to be paying attention to.  Let’s just face it, I could eat fried chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner…and pie for dessert. There are healthy ways to do it and we’re really thankful that there are people who are paying attention to these kinds of things and making everything better for everyone in the process. Eric, welcome! 

Eric: Hi, good evening — how are you?

Jennifer: Awesome, and thank you for making the fried chicken that I absolutely love just a little bit better and a little bit healthier.  Will you tell us a little bit about this movement that is hiding in plain sight for all of us foodies?

Eric:  Sure, certainly.  Animal fats have been around for thousands of years and our company has been selling them for 97.  We feel that natural fats like lard and beef tallow are the best fats that you can deep fry and bake in, versus man-made artificial fats that are hydrogenated. During the last 20-plus years, animal fats were demonized, everyone thought that our products were bad for you, and we’ve now come full circle.  It’s been a great opportunity to educate people about natural fats.

Mark: And it’s huge with keto right? The keto diet is based on natural fats.

Eric:  Absolutely, you have keto and a lot of folks in the CrossFit world who are crazy about natural fats.  I’ve been in CrossFit gyms and they have jars of beef tallow in their fridge, so it’s interesting to see the varying types of support for natural fats among athletes.

Jennifer: One of the reasons we were so excited to have you on the show is that I’m somebody who actually works with local butchers to get sources for beef fat and then I render it myself.   At home, I can get the effects that you produce for the great restaurants you serve. I actually pop my popcorn in rendered beef fat.  Have you done that and you do know how delicious it is? 

Eric: I have had it and it’s phenomenal. For many years, we used to make a popcorn-based butter substitute that contained beef tallow, but then it was switched to coconut oil because of the whole animal fat craze at that time.  Many things fried in beef tallow are infinitely better as a result.

Jennifer: Tell us a little bit about the history of your family’s company.

Eric:  My great-grandfather founded the company in 1922, along with two partners.  A third partner was bought out a few years later; he couldn’t stomach the volatility of a meat packing company, especially a startup, back then.  We originally were a full-line meat packing slaughterhouse.  We used to bring in live hogs and cattle and fully process them into bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunchmeat, fresh pork, fresh beef — you name it.  And, of course, making edible lard and beef tallow were byproducts of the operation.  In the 1960s, the slaughter side of the business was no longer stable, so we had to shut down for a few months. All the meat packers in Los Angeles and Vernon that were not necessarily vertically-integrated, like we were, had all this fat.  They called my great-grandfather and asked him, “hey could you make lard and tallow like you used to?” He shrugged and said “yeah, I guess so” and from that point on, we started focusing on rendering animal fats.  We eventually got into vegetable oil as well, becoming a full-on edible shortening and oils company.

Jennifer: Because we’re a travel show and you’re in the same city as Mark — and I know that you both love Los Angeles, one of the great food cities I know of – can you tell us what are some of the best places to find dishes that use lard and/or beef tallow? In particular, who is making the best fried chicken in Los Angeles?

Mark: There are no easy questions on this show!

Jennifer: Because listen, I gotta tell you, I love Dupars, and I love Roscoe’s, and I love Dinah’s.

Mark: So you’re asking Eric to tick off all but one of his clients, eh?

Eric:  You guys are going to laugh at me because all of those you mentioned are great. I don’t know what they’re frying in, so I’m going to have to figure that out, but I can tell you one operation that fries in beef tallow.  It’s more of a chain, a fast food restaurant, and they’re always rated number one among fast food restaurants for fried chicken.  I’m referring to Popeye’s — they use our beef tallow.

Mark: Popeye’s has good chicken!

Jennifer: I love their spicy coating!

Eric: I’m partial to the spicy tenders with the Cajun fries, and a biscuit with real butter… 

Jennifer: We understand that Coast Packing Company stages a #LardLovers Recipe Contest every year, around the time of #NationalLardDay – December 8 – so keep your eye on that. We would love to be judges for you next time this rolls around.

Eric:  We’d be delighted to figure out how we can make that happen.  And you did mention traveling, which is something I get to do quite a bit as part of my second job on the pro drag racing circuit.  If you go to our website at www.coastpacking.com, check out our #FatMaps,  where you can find out where lard and tallow are being used in cuisines across the country. We focus on cities and towns on the racing circuit – in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, wherever the schedule takes us.  Dishes made with lard and beef tallow are everywhere!  If you want to find out exactly where, you can just check the map.

Jennifer: I love that! Eric Gustafson from Coast Packing Company, thanks so much for being here on A Fork On The Road.

Eric: Thank you for having me and have a wonderful evening.

Jennifer: Awesome!